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Adams chips in with vital strike to catch City napping

Southampton 1 Manchester City 0

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Breaking his duck: Che Adams opened his account in style for Southampton. Photo: PA

Breaking his duck: Che Adams opened his account in style for Southampton. Photo: PA

PA

Breaking his duck: Che Adams opened his account in style for Southampton. Photo: PA

It has often felt as though a Che Adams goal is the only thing rarer than Southampton picking up points at home this season, but 30 appearances into his south-coast career, the £15m summer signing from Birmingham City finally opened his account to record a fifth win at St Mary's of the campaign for Ralph Hasenhuttl's side and strike down an out-of-sorts Manchester City.

This was a textbook example of how to play against a Pep Guardiola side, especially if you cannot come close to their level of talent.

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Southampton manager Ralph Hasenhuttl celebrates with Kyle Walker-Peters and Ryan Bertrand. Photo: PA

Southampton manager Ralph Hasenhuttl celebrates with Kyle Walker-Peters and Ryan Bertrand. Photo: PA

PA

Southampton manager Ralph Hasenhuttl celebrates with Kyle Walker-Peters and Ryan Bertrand. Photo: PA

Favour

Jurgen Klopp once said that attempting to sit deep and defend against City is like hoping to win the lottery. Instead, you have to turn the odds in your favour, with a blend of high-intensity running, relentless pressing and resolute defending. The man often characterised as Klopp's Alpine equivalent produced just that.

Southampton are one of only three top-flight teams - along with Leicester City and Klopp's Liverpool - who press more intently and more successfully than City.

Whether it was Kyle Walker-Peters shutting Raheem Sterling out of the game and forcing his opponent to be replaced before the hour mark, Stuart Armstrong snatching possession away from City's playmakers or Danny Ings chasing every lost cause in the final third, tirelessly harassing the opposition was always going to be key to their approach.

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Southampton's Stuart Armstrong challenges Manchester City's Oleksandr Zinchenko. Photo: Reuters

Southampton's Stuart Armstrong challenges Manchester City's Oleksandr Zinchenko. Photo: Reuters

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Southampton's Stuart Armstrong challenges Manchester City's Oleksandr Zinchenko. Photo: Reuters

For City, a third successive defeat on the road will dampen the mood after last week's thrashing of newly crowned champions.

If that emphatic victory had raised hopes of a closer race next year, this was only a reminder of the foibles and frailties that ended this year's title defence so early. The gap to Liverpool is 23 points again, back to where it was before last Thursday, and Guardiola has lost nine games in a single league season for the first time in his career.

The decisive goal came from the breakdown of a favourite Guardiola tactic. With Fernandinho dropping back to make a three-man defence, City's two full-backs regularly stepped inside to offer more support in midfield. It is a strategy that City have used every so often during the Catalan's four years in charge and a calculated gamble which has cost them fewer goals than it has created but it requires the full-backs to be almost perfect in possession. After all this time, it was due to spectacularly backfire.

Receiving possession in a central midfield position, Zinchenko mistakenly believed he could take an extra touch and dribble around the advancing Armstrong, only to have his pocket ruthlessly picked.

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Manchester City's David Silva and Southampton's James Ward-Prowse in action. Photo: PA

Manchester City's David Silva and Southampton's James Ward-Prowse in action. Photo: PA

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Manchester City's David Silva and Southampton's James Ward-Prowse in action. Photo: PA

Adams could already see Ederson was a long way upfield as the loose ball broke in his direction and, despite his long wait to open his St Mary's account, he was confident enough to delicately lift a shot over the City goalkeeper's head and across his vacated goal-line.

When players score from 45 yards out, the natural reaction is to blame the goalkeeper's positioning, but Ederson was exactly where he was supposed to be.

Guardiola's approach requires a 'sweeper 'keeper' to push the rest of his players up the pitch. What cannot happen is for those directly in front of Ederson to lose the ball too easily and leave him exposed one-on-one.

Unfortunately for Zinchenko, who has regressed since establishing himself as a first-team regular last year, that was exactly what happened.

City, inevitably, set up camp in Southampton's half in search of an equaliser and came closest through Fernandinho, who struck the inside of McCarthy's right-hand post during one extended spell of first-half pressure.

Elevated

Gabriel Jesus is yet to score for City since Sergio Aguero's injury elevated him to first-choice status up front and spurned several half-chances, of the type that Aguero tends to convert. He was not the only one, though.

David Silva's turn into the penalty area at the start of the second half was sublime but his shot was tame and straight into McCarthy's hands.

But despite the volume of chances created, and for all their quality, City failed to fashion much that could be described as clear-cut.

Guardiola's side have benefited from late goals against Southampton in recent years - think Jesus's on this ground to secure a 100-point season in 2018, or Kyle Walker's winner in November's reverse fixture to keep their flagging title defence on life support - but it was not forthcoming this time, leaving Adams to celebrate not just a first goal in Southampton colours, but a winning one.

© Independent News Service

Independent News Service